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EHO'S REFIT ORDERS 90% EXCESSIVE, APPEAL COURT RULES

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case no: CCRTF 95/0294/C ...
case no: CCRTF 95/0294/C

The owners of a top-rated West Country guest house who were told to carry out a 'wholly excessive' refit by a council environmental health officer, left London's appeal court with a £34,000 compensation pay-out.

The appeal court ruled that 90% of the work North Cornwall DC environmental health officer Brian Evans had required David and Victoria Welton to carry out had been completely unnecessary.

The Archer Farm guest house in Port Isaac was awarded the West Country Tourist Board's prestigious 'Three Crowns' rating in 1990, before Mr Evans's visit.

Lord Justice Ward said that 'fairness, reasonableness and justice' demanded that the couple be compensated for all the pointless hardship they had been put through.

A tourist board representative had visited the guest house in late 1990 to find it clean and well-run. But in October that year, Mr Evans, paid the guest house what Lord Justice Rose termed an 'unsolicited and unannounced' visit.

Threatening to close down the business if his requirements were not met, he told the Weltons to make 13 improvements to the premises, including building an extension and replacing a Delabole slate floor which was in 'superb condition'.

The Weltons did what he asked, but in January last year Truro county court judge, Anthony Thompson QC, ruled that 90% of the work had been unnecessary to comply with the law.

The judge awarded the couple £39,522 damages for the 'wholly unnecessary and excessive expenditure' incurred, as well as inconvenience and disruption of their family life.

That decision was upheld by the appeal court yesterday, but the couple agreed that their damages be cut to £34,000.

Lord Justice Judge said: 'In summary, recommendations were made directly to Mrs Welton by Mr Evans. She was not seeking advice or information from him but the recommendations were nevertheless made to her.

'They were accompanied by the threat of sanctions, the effect of which would be damaging to her business and livelihood.

'It was only natural Mrs Welton should act on his recommendations. They were made negligently, and having acted on them Mrs Welton incurred substantial and unnecessary expense.' Lord Justice Rose remarked: 'Mrs Welton undertook the works as a consequence of the pressure exerted upon her by Mr Evans.

Mr Evans knew that what he said would be relied upon by the Weltons.'

And Lord Justice Ward added: 'Public safety is important but in the special circumstances of this case it does not seem to me that it would be imperilled if the need for justice to Mrs Welton was given its proper place.

'So I conclude that fairness, reasonableness and justice, and all the material aspects of policy inextricably wrapped up in those concepts, leads me to uphold the duty of care imposed upon the local authority in this particular case'.

The district council was ordered to pay the action's legal costs.

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